Row over Turkey’s EU Accession?

Following an interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Westerwelle’s openness to Turkey becoming a member of the European Union puts him at odds with his coalition partners, Chancellor Merkel and the conservative parties CDU and CSU. (The Wall Street Journal, 23 September 2010)

The widely read European news platform EUobserver picked up on the issue.

While it is true that Turkey’s EU membership perspective has frequently put both CDU and CSU under stress (and the majority of their members are perhaps still against Turkish EU membership), the issue has become less controversial.  There are some indications:

1. When the British Prime Minister David Cameron recently visited Turkey he indirectly criticized both the French and German governments for being against Turkish accession. Germany’s conservative parties did not respond to this attack. In the past such remarks would have triggered immediate talk about the so called “privileged partnership” that the Conservatives prefer to membership status for Turkey. This discourse seems to have disappeared.

2. Ruprecht Polenz, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, has recently published a book in which he makes a strong plea for Turkey’s EU membership. (see berlinbrief 1 August 2010) There has not been any controversy so far over this open dismissal of the “privileged partnership”.

3. Turkish accession is not likely to happen within the next decade anyway. This makes it a somewhat distant topic for any government.

I am not suggesting that the coalition government is making a shift in its policy toward Turkey. However, there seems to be room for different opinions again. However it likely that Westerwelle’s “openness” is based on the knowledge that for a number of reasons Turkish EU accession is not to be expected any time soon.

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German Law Journal: Kosovo in the ICJ

The current issue of the German Law Journal is looking at the Kosovo case, analyzing the July 2010 opinion of the International Court of Justice.

This is the first comprehensive analysis of the Court’s recent opinion. This month’s issue covers a wide range of topics related to the Kosovo case, including the role of the European Union.

The German Law Journal provides for a free download of the papers.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has just visited the Western Balkans, where he called the independence and territorial integrity of Kosovo a “reality”.

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Debate on Bundeswehr Reform Kicks Off

With Minister of Defence zu Guttenberg revealing his plans to modernize the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, on Monday, the summer break is officially over.

The minister kicked off what will become a foreign policy debate touching on the very foundations of Germany’s security identy.

Guttenberg’s plans include a de facto end to mandatory conscription. His suggestions are controversial even within his own camp.

Spiegel Online International’s “The World from Berlin” media review has compiled commentary on the issue in Germany’s major newspapers: “Germany Weighs the Elimination of Conscription” (24 August 2010).

Guttenberg’s reform plans are “regarded as one of the most radical military shake-ups since the end of the Cold War”, writes Judy Dempsey: “Germany Plans Major Restructuring of Military” (International Herald Tribune, 23 August 2010).

The berlinbrief will follow up soon with the reactions of the political parties.

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Mandatory Conscription to be Dropped?

The future of the German armed forces, the “Bundeswehr”, has been an issue of debate for many years. How can the country provide for a modern army, capable and equipped to carry out its duties in missions abroad?

The need for budget cuts has now added fresh thoughts to the debate. Minister of Defense zu Guttenberg has shown openness to discuss Germany’s concept of compulsory military service. An army of professional soldiers would mean a major turn in the country’s political culture, where many believe an army needs to be rooted in society. Chancellor Merkel is reportedly not happy with her minister’s push.

But there are also other suggestions on the table, e.g. cutting down the number of soldiers by half, which has been discussed by the cabinet before the summer break.

The future of the Bundeswehr will be a major policy issue in the second half of 2010, when a report is expected to be published by zu Guttenberg’s ministry with proposals to reform both command and administrative structures.

If the minister wants to turn the armed forces into an army of professionals, he will need a long breath. Heated debates are to be expected later this year.

Spiegel International has published a couple of articles on the issue. The first one is a particularly insightful read, as it explains the background of German political culture and its armed forces:

“Dodging the Draft: Conscription Debate Divides German Conservatives.” (Spiegel Online International, 29 July 2010).

“In Retreat: German Military Reform Could Halve Ground Forces.” (Spiegel Online International, 9 August 2010).

Also, read Judy Dempsey in the International Herald Tribune (18 August 2010).

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Alleged Mossad Spy Set Free

Israel’s secret service is suspected to have killed a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai in January 2010. According to the Dubai police, one of the 11 members of the hit squad that allegedly were Mossad agents carried a German passport.

The berlinbrief wrote about the case on 20 February 2010.

The man known as Uri Brodsky was arrested in Poland in June under a German arrest warrant. Brodsky was then handed over to the German authorities. However, a court in Cologne, where the passport he used in the Dubai killing was issued, set him free on bail on Friday.

The court could only charge him for forgery, as spying against Germany is not a crime under Polish law.

Compared to reactions by the then UK government and the coverage the incident got in the UK, the case did not create much publicity in Germany.

Take a look at the International Herald Tribune and Haaretz.

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Conservative wants Turkey in EU

The British Prime Minister David Cameron made it very clear on a recent visit to Turkey: He wants the country to become an EU member soon.

Cameron implicitly criticized his conservative colleagues on the continent, Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy, who have adopted a cautious approach despite accession negotiations already being under way for a while now.

Merkel has stated on numerous occasions that while “pacta sunt servanda” – i.e. Germany supports the accession negotiations – she believes a “privileged partnership” with the EU would be a more suitable format for Turkey.

A prominent voice of Merkel’s CDU party, however, is speaking out energetically for Turkish accession now:

Ruprecht Polenz, a respected foreign policy expert and the Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German Bundestag, has published a book entitled “Better for both: Turkey belongs in the EU”.

Published by Körber Foundation, whose Berlin office is very active on foreign policy issues of the wider Middle East, the book is a strong plea against the model of a privileged partnership that Chancellor Merkel has been adovacting.

Qantara.de spoke to Ruprecht Polenz. Read the interview here.

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Who Understands Germany’s Europapolitik?

There have recently been intense discussions in Germany’s EU partner countries over Berlin’s handling of the Greek debt crisis and its impact on the euro zone.

Has Germany fallen out of love with the European Union?

This is a question increasingly raised in Western capitals. Funny enough, Berlin seems to be immune to this debate. Over the last months, Germany’s “Europapolitik” was stuck in navel-gazing, either ignoring or not understanding the questions and criticism directed to the Merkel government from abroad.

A couple of new papers written by both German and European analysts have picked up the issue, aiming at explaining the “neue deutsche Europapolitik”.

Wolfgang Proissl, a journalist with Financial Times Deutschland who is currently a visiting fellow at the Brussels based think tank Bruegel, has written an excellent essay on Germany’s past, present and future role in Europe:

“Why Germany Fell out of Love with Europe”, Bruegel essays and lectures, Brussels, 1 July 2010.

Jacques Delors’ Paris based think tank “Notre Europe” has just published a compilation of papers of both German and European analysts, discussing “Where is Germany Heading?”:

“Where is Germany Heading?” (directed by Renaud Dehousse and Elvire Fabry), Notre Europe Studies and Research 79, Paris 2010.

How will the European Unon and its members accomodate the “new” Germany?

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Sunshine Between Berlin and London?

For all those who had doubts after the BBC’s James Coomarasamy put him to the test last September: Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle actually does speak English.

And he proved a sense of humour when the new British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague came on their first visit to Berlin this week. Continue reading

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Van Rompuy in Berlin ahead of EU Summit

Perhaps most Europeans still haven’t heard of the European Union’s new President. But Herman van Rompuy, who appeared on the scene in late 2009 with a new provision of the Lisbon Treaty that foresees a permanent elected president for the European Council (“The EU Summit”), has become a man to count on in the Union.

Supported by an experienced and influential team, Van Rompuy has left his marks in a number of major policy issues in his first months in office; and he used the fact that he is the first person to occupy and shape the new position to his favour.

In the economic crisis that brought Greece into turmoil and with it the euro currency, Van Rompuy has developed into a major player.

Without making much noise, he is the one pulling the strings to hammer out reforms aimed at strengthening the governance of the eurozone. The former Belgian prime minister is heading a “task force” that is expected to put initial suggestions to the European Heads of State and Government at their summit in Brussels next week (17-18 June 2010).

This week, Van Rompuy has been on a tour d’Europe to assess the temperatures in Europe’s capitals. No doubt that the support of Germany, the largest economy in the European Union and the eurozone, is crucial to any reform changing the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact.

However, Berlin has been rather isolated so far with its suggestions to Europe’s ministers of finance. (Take a look at the berlinbrief, 24 May 2010)

Will Van Rompuy manage to facilitate an agreement?

Here are Van Rompuy’s official remarks after the meeting with Chancellor Merkel, in which he outlines the reform priorities for the weeks and months to come: Continue reading

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Berlin Upgrades Relations With Palestinians

I have been wanting to write about an interesting novelty in German-Palestinian relations for a while.

On 18 May 2010, a new type of “governmental” consultation mechanism between the Foreign Ministry and the Palestinian Authority was launched in Berlin.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad chaired the first session of a so-called “German-Palestinian Steering Committee” that was attended by their Interior, Economics, Development and Education Ministers.

In the course of the meeting the delegations agreed on a number of measures to intensify Germany’s support for the building of Palestinian state structures in the West Bank.

The meeting also had a clear political message: Germany is willing to put its relations with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank on a qualitatively new footing. The steering committee will operate just under the level of the format applied with the government of Israel (“Joint governmental consultations”).

However, it clearly resembles the meetings with Israel that have been taking place on a regular basis and in the presence of the respective heads of government since 2008.

This is how the Foreign Office describes its motivation for the initiative.

This is the article that Foreign Minister Westerwelle published in Al Quds newspaper on the day of the meeting in Berlin.

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